The sales brochure made the point that the Hudson River is visible from the ninth-floor apartment where Ann and I have recently settled. It is, but only if you press against the window and twist your head as far as possible to the left. Even then, you can see only a sliver of the river. You can see it quite well by raising a window and learning way out. I’ve done that a couple of times, but I don’t plan to continue.
Some years back, when we lived in an apartment farther up Riverside Drive, we enjoyed a full, unobstructed view of the river. It felt like the river was part of the apartment; and it extended our living space all the way to New Jersey. It was also a benevolent presence, from time to time serving as therapist, confessor, boon companion, and entertainer. It’s understandable that real estate descriptions make much of river views, even restricted ones.
These days I look out on a building ninety feet away on the other side of W. 91st Street. That sounds stereotypically urban, doesn’t it. Not a Jacob Riis photo of tenements with sagging clothes lines stretched over rubbish-strewn courtyards, but nevertheless calling up a sense of congestion and constriction. That’s not how it is, though. Not to me.
The façade I look at is made up of sections, each with a relatively large central window flanked on each side by a set of three smaller windows that protrude toward me in a suggestion of bay or oriel windows. Every window has raised decorative borders like picture frames. When the sun begins to set at the end of the street, the variations in depth cause lines and shadows to form a slow-motion Edward Hopper video. The figures in his works are described variously as melancholy, lonely, and solitary. I’m not sure about that. Loneliness is not what I feel when looking out my window like one of his subjects at that show across the street. I’m entertained, quieted, and sustained in a way not less, not more, than the Hudson can do.
At this time of year, the Hopper picture arrives only in the evening. The angle at which sunlight comes down the block is not right for a sunrise show. That will change with the seasons. Perhaps by Thanksgiving Hopper will join me for Morning Prayer but be absent during the cocktail hour.
I wonder what the view will be in the hard, gray light of winter. When the wind howls off the river and up the avenues on the west side can be cold without mercy. We call it little Chicago. I expect my window to be rimed with frost then; I’ll be disappointed if it isn’t. It will lend another charm to what I see.
Within the Hopper picture, air conditioners stick out of many windows. Directly in front of my living room is one that is propped up by a block of wood. There is space between the block and the window that is the home of a pair of pigeons. I don’t know what it’s like inside their place, but they seem happy with it. Maybe it’s got a tiny microwave and a birdie Jacuzzi.
In the evenings, one or both of them sit out on the window ledge while I watch the news. I get up now and then and leave the room to get something from the kitchen or clean my glasses. They move in and out of their apartment in much the same way. For no reason I can discern, one will go behind the block of wood and stay for an extended period.
I don’t know for certain that they spend the night in their little house, but I think they do. When I’m having my morning coffee, they come out and sit for a while, ruffling their feathers and pecking at their backsides. If pigeons could yawn and rub their eyes, they would. So far as I can tell, they don’t eat breakfast. At least they seldom leave their window in the morning when I’m watching. They probably aren’t real New Yorkers, or they’d swoop down to the park and bring back bagel bits.
An unobstructed view of the Hudson is a fine thing. So is Hopper-cum-pigeons, and when our time in this apartment is up, I’m going to suggest using it as a selling point.